15 MARCH 2015


(Doug Mills/The New York Times photo Friday 20 February 2015)


Paraguay issued a commemorative stamp on the occasion of an official visit on 25 February by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.


The new Under-Secretary General for Communications, Cristina Gallach, took over her new duties on the 10th Floor of the U.N. Secretariat Building. Most staff at the Department of Public Information have been anxiously awaiting her arrival after an "Acting" period where decisions were perceived to be taken elsewhere and telephoned down. Ms. Gallach, a citizen of Spain, is the second woman to take over as head of that Department; the first was Therese Paquet-Sevigny of Canada. She knows the U.N. and the Public Information field fairly well, having served in New York in an earlier capacity and with the European Community in Brussels. We wish her well.


An almost farcical note about the election of a new Secretary General was issued by a group of former senior officials calling themselves the "Elders." One of their suggestions is for the Secretariat leader to have one seven year term rather than a five year term, which has been renewed in several cases. One of the signatories was Mr. Kofi Annan, who not only enthusiastically sought a second term, but discreetly hoped for a historic third one were it not for the Food-for-Oil scandal. Another was former WHO Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, who had also served as Norway's Prime Minister. Why did she not initiate any of the recently proposed measures when she was in a position to do something about it is a matter of speculation. Apropos speculation, that letter raised questions about its real purpose, like whether they had a particular candidate in mind, for example, a newly-initiated "Elder" with an open checkbook.


A report in the international media about a sexual harassment case involving a chairman of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change committee did not help efforts to reach an agreement in time for a decisive meeting in Paris next December. Professor Rajendra Pachauri, an industrial engineer by profession and director of an influential think tank in Delhi, was accused by a young female researcher who filed a complaint to the police alleging he had harassed her with advances and emails. The published complaint interrupted Mr. Pachauri's plan to attend a key meeting in Nairobi early March. The Panel is an essential effort to pursue a long-sought Framework on Climate Change, habitually abbreviated as FCCC. Perhaps the anxious professor could be relieved in time to tend to an anticipated UN/FCCC Paris gathering next December.


One of the most essential qualifications for a highly-regarded diplomat is to know how to sleep during a meeting without being detected.


"My right hand hasn't seen my left hand in thirty years."
-- Burt Lancaster in "Sweet Smell of Success"

10 DAYS - 100 DAYS:

When Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Saudi Arabia early February to meet its new ruler, King Salman, he met a number of other senior officials but apparently kept his focus on aiming to please Number One. Saudi Minister of Oil, Ali Naimy, informed a gathering at an economic conference in the southern city of Jazan that Mr. Ban had told him that the new King Salman accomplished in 10 days tasks which usually took new leaders 100 days. Pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat, whose publisher is one of the King's sons, reproduced that quote as a headline.


Why did Egypt's President Sisi invite Russia's President Putin to lunch at an observation tower in Cairo's Centre? A jovial answer may be found in a book entitled "Games of Nations" by Miles Copeland, a declared former CIA agent turned musician (his relatives formed part of the group "Police"). Copeland devoted much of that best seller to his role in working with Egypt's "Free Officers" who turned over the monarch in July 1953. He mentioned that one of his noted superiors, Kim Roosevelt of Iranian fame, approached "Colonel" General Abdel Nasser with a cash payment of a few million dollars ($5 million was the assumed figure). Nassar's insulted response was to make a point of not returning the money (that is, to deprive the attempted briber) and use it to build a central circular tower similar to a man's sexual organ and informally branding it as "an erection for Roosevelt."


A special CNN Arabic program opened a live debate on Arab women in the media, particularly those with a regional and international impact. Four women seem to have prominent coverage. The most viewed was a competition between Al-Jazeera's Khadija Bin Qanna, an outstanding Algerian interviewer known for her direct intelligent yet respectful style, and Egyptian Mona Shazly, who is very popular on the talk show circuit. Ms. Qanna got the wider vote. Among writers was Saudi columnist Badriyah El-Bishr and Lebanese-U.S. commentator Raghida Dergham. Ms. Dergham, who is director of the daily Al-Hayat office in New York and appears regularly on a number of American, European and international stations, received an obvious edge. By now, Raghida Dergham could be considered the Dean of U.N. correspondents.


When the Ambassador of France, Eric Chevallier, left Damascus about three years ago as diplomatic relations were being cut, he left at the Residence a bottle of champagne for his successor upon returning after celebrating a new regime. The government of France since then hosted the opposition "Friends of Syria" gatherings and encouraged sending fighters against the regime through Aleppo and Turkey. It led the Syria boycott group. In February this year, a delegation of four French members of Parliament arrived in Damascus and met with the President of the current Syrian Parliament, an extension of President Bashar Assad's regime. The visiting delegation included a prominent member of the ruling French Socialist Party, Dr. Gerard Bobett. Together with Jacques Millard, a prominent member of the conservative party under outgoing French President Sarkozy, plus a representative of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the "Somat," Emery de Montesquieu. What happened to the Champagne bottle?


A slight incident at a fashionable New York Soho restaurant early March ruffled certain French feathers. An old mirror hanging on Balthazar's wall fell suddenly, hitting a distinguished man having breakfast there. In response to questions by those anxiously caring for him he gave his name as "Arnaud Francais." Indeed he was French and Arnaud was his first name. Somewhat later, he was identified as Arnaud Montebourg, a former Cabinet member on a brief visit to Princeton University. Nothing really serious. Yet upon return to Paris and with the broken mirror episode taking wings, regulars at Café Le Relais by l'Invalide were having fun welcoming back "Monsieur Francais."


Climate is what you expect.
Weather is what you get.


"You can only predict things after they've happened."
-- Eugene Ionesco


"Everyone wants to ride with you in the limo. But what you need is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down." -- TV Personality Oprah Winfrey


Sometimes a timely display of authority would avert actually using it. During an after-dinner chat about world affairs in London among friends, most of who came from Beirut during the civil war, someone gave an example of a certain Minister of Interior who was a brilliant lawyer and powerful parliamentarian with a wide network of internal connections. Once after a crime at Beirut airport that spread fear in town, he announced that seven suspects were swiftly arrested. His nephew (who happens to be the father of Amal Alamuddin, George Clooney's new bride) asked him how come he managed to catch the culprits without delay. His uncle explained that the announcement was made before anyone was arrested mainly to give the firm impression of informed confidence; once they surrounded the suspects, the culprits volunteered to surrender to avert forceful arrest.


Former IMF Chief Dominque Strauss-Kahn is protesting. Accusations about his organised sex parties are grossly exaggerated. They were not worldwide as some media inaccurately reported; merely limited among Washington, D.C., Brussels, Paris and Lille. And how would a busy man running an International Monetary Fund know that a naked woman readily engaged in group sex would be a paid prostitute not merely a hard-working lady seeking a break from daily travails. Dodo La Saumura of Brussels fame could attest to that. And they were not like ongoing every day, when DSK would need to focus on an imminent financial crisis. "It was four times a year, not more than that," he told the French court charging him with pimping, "it wasn't this out of control activity that the complaint suggests." So, should he be blamed for only four pimp sex parties in only four years -- that is, 16 "partouze" in all. Et voila!


A series of extensive reporting by The New York Times about wealthy foreign money invested in new high-rise apartments, including the Time-Werner Center, detailed activities by a number of enterprising individuals and families. One of them happened to be a Mr. Jho Low, described as an active business man from Malaysia, connected to members of the Prime Minister's family. Malaysia has just taken its two-year seat at the U.N. Security Council. The article included a photo of Mr. Low addressing a meeting with a U.N. flag in the background surrounded by some U.N. officials, including a senior one in Geneva. It said he pledged $25 million in 2014 to news agency IRIN, devoted to humanitarian issues. That agency, which was somehow part of the U.N. for several years, has recently started its new separate venture with at least three financial backers including the Low family.

Foundation led by Mr. Low, second from right, pledged $25 million to IRIN, a news agency on humanitarian issues.


Except for the obligatory press communiques and politically correct statements, very little was done on 10 March to truly commemorate International Women's Day. Instead of summits, grass root gatherings and public mobilisation, there were a few proclamations. Even "U.N. Women," which supposedly was established to widen the scope of women, seemed more confused than in other previous years. Oh, there was a luncheon for "U.N. Women for Peace Awards." Yes, and a (very boring!) General Assembly "High-Level Thematic Debate" on "Advancing Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women and Girls for a Transformative Post-2015 Development Agenda." Correct but bored participants. What a pity.


"Missiles may kill terrorists. But good governance kills terrorism. Human Rights, accountable in situations, the equitable delivery of services and political participation -- these are among one of the most powerful weapons."
-- Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the Summit to Counter Violent Extremism, 19 February 2015


"If you're lucky enough to have a parent or two alive on this planet, call them. Don't text. Don't email. Call them on the phone. Tell them you love them, and thank them, and listen to them for as long as they want to talk to you."
-- Oscar-winning actor J.K. Simmons, quoted in EW.com


"If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors not his "equals" (or his superiors)."
-- J.K. Rowlings, as quoted in bookreporter.com


The post of Acting Director in Manama, Bahrain, which was advertised for an interim period, found a competent experienced candidate, who upon being informed, regrettably turned it down.


The Mayor of New York City will be losing his Chief of Staff for a World Food Programme posting in Rome. Laura Santucci, who like Mr. de Blasio, comes from Italian origins, could not help herself after spending some time last summer in the Italian capital. A good word from U.S. President Obama's close adviser Valerie Jarrett, who once worked with Ms. Santucci, sealed the deal.


"Raw I was
Cooked, well burned I got."
-- Rumi


He was one of the best informed French writers on the Middle East. For years, his enlightened analysis was closely followed by heads of state, as well as reporters and intellectuals. For good reason. Eric Rouleau was born in Egypt. And though he left at a very young age with his parents to France, he remained in touch. Even when President Mitterand appointed him as France's Ambassador to Tunisia, he remained "au courant" with what was happening in the "Mashreq." Wherever and whenever he wrote, his articles were widely circulated in the region as a reflection of an informed analyst genuinely interested in the good governance and dignified life of its people. He wrote less recently, but always gave the impression that he cared. Adieux, Eric.


Someone circulated an email that this year's month of February was very special in its orderly sequence: It started on Sunday, officially the first day of the week, and ended on Saturday the last day. It had 4 Sundays, 4 Mondays, 4 Tuesdays, 4 Wednesdays, 4 Thursdays, 4 Fridays and 4 Saturdays. This happens only once every 823 years.


One of the most circulated YouTube videos amongst Europeans and Francophones during New York's freezing February weather was of a nostalgic song by Salvatore Adamo: "Tombe La Neige" ("Snow is falling, you won't be coming tonight"). It was one of the romantic songs that launched the Italian-French artist who performed in several languages. "La Nuit" and "J'aime" were among his other hits.

Tombe la neige
Tu ne viendras pas ce soir
Tombe la neige
Et mon coeur s'habille de noir
Ce soyeux cortege
Tout en larmes blanches
L'oiseau sur la branche
Pleure le sortilege

Tu ne viendras pas ce soir
Me crie mon dusespoir
Mais tombe la neige
Impassible manege

Tombe la neige
Tu ne viendras pas ce soir
Tombe la neige
Tout est blanc de dsespoir
Triste certitude
Le froid et l'absence
Cet odieux silence
Blanche solitude

Tu ne viendras pas ce soir
Me crie mon dusespoir
Mais tombe la neige
Impassible manege